Isaac Julien’s Playtime – A story of capitalism & crisis

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Mercedes Cabral in Isaac Julien's Playtime, 2014, Seven screen ultra high definition video installation with 7.1 surround sound, 66 min 57 sec.
Mercedes Cabral in Isaac Julien's Playtime, 2014, Seven screen ultra high definition video installation with 7.1 surround sound, 66 min 57 sec.

Mercedes Cabral in Isaac Julien’s Playtime, 2014, Seven screen ultra high definition video installation with 7.1 surround sound, 66 min 57 sec.

Published: August 23, 2019

Last updated:

What was Playtime by Isaac Julien?

Playtime by Isaac Julien is an artwork that seeks to explore and bring to light the subject of capitalism. It consists of a seven-screen installation that was shot at Victoria Miro Wharf road in London. Amongst some of the prominent actors featured in this work are Merced Cabral, James Franco, Maggie Cheung, Colin Salmon, and Simon de Pury. The work comprises a set of characters that are meant to bring to light the different aspects of capitalism. Each of the characters is unique and portrays a distinct relation to capitalism.

Video: Playtime teaser

2min 4sec

Different chapters of Playtime

The chapters in Playtime each feature an individual character. There is the artist, the auctioneer, the house worker, the art dealer, the reporter, and the hedge fund manager. If you take a look at each of the characters in Playtime, you will realize that each one of them represents a certain aspect of capitalism. Also, it is notable that this artwork is not just concentrated on one specific area but is in fact spread across three continents. In this way, you are able to see the capitalist society not just from one angle.

Isaac Julien chooses three cities as his locations in Playtime: London, Dubai, and Reykjavik, all of which dealt with the 2008 global economic crisis.

Colin Salmon, the Hedge Fund Manager, London

In London, the hedge fund manager is with his advisor. They are contemplating on bets. They place bets on one of their colleagues on the basis of whether he did put on boxer shorts or briefs this morning. In all of the scenes in this work, one factor is constant. All the characters pursue a similar goal which is to make money. Betting is a way to make quick money that is associated with modern day capitalism. Isaac Julien was keen enough to bring out this aspect.

Colin Salmon in Isaac Julien's - Playtime, 2014, Seven screen ultra high definition video installation with 7.1 surround sound, 66 min 57 sec, Victoria Miro, London, 2014

Colin Salmon in Isaac Julien’s Playtime, 2014, Seven screen ultra high definition video installation with 7.1 surround sound, 66 min 57 sec, Victoria Miro, London, 2014, photo: Stephen White

James Franco, the Art Dealer, London

Moving on, there is the art dealer Franco. He goes about his work of showing some great pieces of artwork to his potential customers. Each of the artworks comes at a hefty price from the way the art dealer elaborates on them.

James Franco in Isaac Julien's - Playtime, 2014, Seven screen ultra high definition video installation with 7.1 surround sound, 66 min 57 sec, Victoria Miro, London, 2014

James Franco in Isaac Julien’s Playtime, 2014, Seven screen ultra high definition video installation with 7.1 surround sound, 66 min 57 sec, Victoria Miro, London, 2014, photo: Stephen White

James Franco in Isaac Julien's - Playtime, 2014, Seven screen ultra high definition video installation with 7.1 surround sound, 66 min 57 sec, Victoria Miro, London, 2014

James Franco in Isaac Julien’s Playtime, 2014, Seven screen ultra high definition video installation with 7.1 surround sound, 66 min 57 sec, Victoria Miro, London, 2014, photo: Stephen White

Simon de Pury as himself, the auctioneer, London

The scene played by Simon de Pury was quite captivating. He is the auctioneer and we get to have a glimpse of what it is to be in this line of duty. The cameras capture Simon so close that we can actually feel his emotions and adrenaline rush. The way this scene is portrayed is to engage the audience with what is going on in the story. An auction is a big deal to him and he is faced with a series of emotions before and even after his work. From the screens, you can actually see the anguish and anxiety followed by bouts of depression that fall upon him. His image is mirrored on the center large screen and it suddenly splits. What could this mean? Could it be that one has to have two personalities at the same time in order to survive in the capitalistic society? It is definitely something to think about.

Simon de Pury in Isaac Julien's Playtime, 2014, Seven screen ultra high definition video installation with 7.1 surround sound, 66 min 57 sec, Victoria Miro, London, 2014

Simon de Pury in Isaac Julien’s Playtime, 2014, Seven screen ultra high definition video installation with 7.1 surround sound, 66 min 57 sec, Victoria Miro, London, 2014, photo: Stephen White

Simon de Pury in Isaac Julien's Playtime, 2014, Seven screen ultra high definition video installation with 7.1 surround sound, 66 min 57 sec, Platform-L Contemporary Art Center, Seoul, 2017

Simon de Pury in Isaac Julien’s Playtime, 2014, Seven screen ultra high definition video installation with 7.1 surround sound, 66 min 57 sec, Platform-L Contemporary Art Center, Seoul, 2017

Simon de Pury in Isaac Julien's Playtime, 2014, Seven screen ultra high definition video installation with 7.1 surround sound, 66 min 57 sec, Platform-L Contemporary Art Center, Seoul, 2017

Simon de Pury in Isaac Julien’s Playtime, 2014, Seven screen ultra high definition video installation with 7.1 surround sound, 66 min 57 sec, Platform-L Contemporary Art Center, Seoul, 2017

Mercedes Cabral, the House Worker, Dubai

In Dubai, the housekeeper is seen going about her chores. She is cleaning an apartment that is decorated with some pretty and seeming expensive art pieces. In this part, a lot of things happen that bring forward the challenges that accompany capitalism. The housekeeper is a Filipina maid, a role that is played by Merced Cabral. The apartment seems to be uninhabited and it is obvious she feels lonely and isolated. You can hear a generic Arabic song playing in the background while she stares ahead deep in thought. She goes on to complain about how much she misses her family back in the Philippines and the oppression she is facing. The scene then changes and she is no longer in the apartment but wandering on sands dunes in the Arabian Desert. The entire scene here will in one way or the other bring to light a glimpse of the Arab world.

Mercedes Cabral in Isaac Julien's Playtime, 2014, Seven screen ultra high definition video installation with 7.1 surround sound, 66 min 57 sec.

Mercedes Cabral in Isaac Julien’s Playtime, 2014, Seven screen ultra high definition video installation with 7.1 surround sound, 66 min 57 sec.

Mercedes Cabral in Isaac Julien's Playtime, 2014, Seven screen ultra high definition video installation with 7.1 surround sound, 66 min 57 sec.

Mercedes Cabral in Isaac Julien’s Playtime, 2014, Seven screen ultra high definition video installation with 7.1 surround sound, 66 min 57 sec.

Mercedes Cabral in Isaac Julien's Playtime, 2014, Seven screen ultra high definition video installation with 7.1 surround sound, 66 min 57 sec.

Mercedes Cabral in Isaac Julien’s Playtime, 2014, Seven screen ultra high definition video installation with 7.1 surround sound, 66 min 57 sec.

Isaac Julien - Playtime, 2014, Seven screen ultra high definition video installation with 7.1 surround sound, 66 min 57 sec

Isaac Julien – Playtime, 2014, Seven screen ultra high definition video installation with 7.1 surround sound, 66 min 57 sec

Isaac Julien - Playtime, 2014, Seven screen ultra high definition video installation with 7.1 surround sound, 66 min 57 sec

Isaac Julien – Playtime, 2014, Seven screen ultra high definition video installation with 7.1 surround sound, 66 min 57 sec

Mercedes Cabral in Isaac Julien's Playtime, 2014, Seven screen ultra high definition video installation with 7.1 surround sound, 66 min 57 sec, Platform-L Contemporary Art Center, Seoul, 2017

Mercedes Cabral in Isaac Julien’s Playtime, 2014, Seven screen ultra high definition video installation with 7.1 surround sound, 66 min 57 sec, Platform-L Contemporary Art Center, Seoul, 2017

Mercedes Cabral in Isaac Julien's Playtime, 2014, Seven screen ultra high definition video installation with 7.1 surround sound, 66 min 57 sec, Platform-L Contemporary Art Center, Seoul, 2017

Mercedes Cabral in Isaac Julien’s Playtime, 2014, Seven screen ultra high definition video installation with 7.1 surround sound, 66 min 57 sec, Platform-L Contemporary Art Center, Seoul, 2017

Mercedes Cabral in Isaac Julien's Playtime, 2014, Seven screen ultra high definition video installation with 7.1 surround sound, 66 min 57 sec, Victoria Miro, London, 2014

Mercedes Cabral in Isaac Julien’s Playtime, 2014, Seven screen ultra high definition video installation with 7.1 surround sound, 66 min 57 sec, Victoria Miro, London, 2014, photo: Stephen White

Mercedes Cabral in Isaac Julien's Playtime, 2014, Seven screen ultra high definition video installation with 7.1 surround sound, 66 min 57 sec, Platform-L Contemporary Art Center, Seoul, 2017.

Mercedes Cabral in Isaac Julien’s Playtime, 2014, Seven screen ultra high definition video installation with 7.1 surround sound, 66 min 57 sec, Platform-L Contemporary Art Center, Seoul, 2017.

Isaac Julien - Playtime, 2014, Seven screen ultra high definition video installation with 7.1 surround sound, 66 min 57 sec, Platform-L Contemporary Art Center, Seoul, 2017.

Isaac Julien – Playtime, 2014, Seven screen ultra high definition video installation with 7.1 surround sound, 66 min 57 sec, Platform-L Contemporary Art Center, Seoul, 2017.

Maggie Cheung, the Reporter
Maggie Cheung in Isaac Julien's Playtime, 2014, Seven screen ultra high definition video installation with 7.1 surround sound, 66 min 57 sec, Platform-L Contemporary Art Center, Seoul, 2017

Maggie Cheung in Isaac Julien’s Playtime, 2014, Seven screen ultra high definition video installation with 7.1 surround sound, 66 min 57 sec, Platform-L Contemporary Art Center, Seoul, 2017

Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson, the Artist, Reykjavik
Ingvar Eggert Sigurosson in Isaac Julien's Playtime, 2014, Seven screen ultra high definition video installation with 7.1 surround sound, 66 min 57 sec

Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson in Isaac Julien’s Playtime, 2014, Seven screen ultra high definition video installation with 7.1 surround sound, 66 min 57 sec

Ingvar Eggert Sigurosson in Isaac Julien's Playtime, 2014, Seven screen ultra high definition video installation with 7.1 surround sound, 66 min 57 sec.

Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson in Isaac Julien’s Playtime, 2014, Seven screen ultra high definition video installation with 7.1 surround sound, 66 min 57 sec.

Ingvar Eggert Sigurosson in Isaac Julien's Playtime, 2014, Seven screen ultra high definition video installation with 7.1 surround sound, 66 min 57 sec

Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson in Isaac Julien’s Playtime, 2014, Seven screen ultra high definition video installation with 7.1 surround sound, 66 min 57 sec

Ingvar Eggert Sigurosson in Isaac Julien's Playtime, 2014, Seven screen ultra high definition video installation with 7.1 surround sound, 66 min 57 sec, Platform-L Contemporary Art Center, Seoul, 2017

Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson in Isaac Julien’s Playtime, 2014, Seven screen ultra high definition video installation with 7.1 surround sound, 66 min 57 sec, Platform-L Contemporary Art Center, Seoul, 2017

Ingvar Eggert Sigurosson in Isaac Julien's Playtime, 2014, Seven screen ultra high definition video installation with 7.1 surround sound, 66 min 57 sec, De Pont Museum, Tilburg, 2015

Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson in Isaac Julien’s Playtime, 2014, Seven screen ultra high definition video installation with 7.1 surround sound, 66 min 57 sec, De Pont Museum, Tilburg, 2015

Ingvar Eggert Sigurosson in Isaac Julien's Playtime, 2014, Seven screen ultra high definition video installation with 7.1 surround sound, 66 min 57 sec, De Pont Museum, Tilburg, 2015

Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson in Isaac Julien’s Playtime, 2014, Seven screen ultra high definition video installation with 7.1 surround sound, 66 min 57 sec, De Pont Museum, Tilburg, 2015

Ingvar Eggert Sigurosson in Isaac Julien's Playtime, 2014, Seven screen ultra high definition video installation with 7.1 surround sound, 66 min 57 sec.

Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson in Isaac Julien’s Playtime, 2014, Seven screen ultra high definition video installation with 7.1 surround sound, 66 min 57 sec.

Ingvar Eggert Sigurosson in Isaac Julien's Playtime, 2014, Seven screen ultra high definition video installation with 7.1 surround sound, 66 min 57 sec.

Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson in Isaac Julien’s Playtime, 2014, Seven screen ultra high definition video installation with 7.1 surround sound, 66 min 57 sec.

Ingvar Eggert Sigurosson in Isaac Julien's Playtime, 2014, Seven screen ultra high definition video installation with 7.1 surround sound, 66 min 57 sec, Victoria Miro, London, 2014

Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson in Isaac Julien’s Playtime, 2014, Seven screen ultra high definition video installation with 7.1 surround sound, 66 min 57 sec, Victoria Miro, London, 2014, photo: Stephen White

Isaac Julien - Playtime, 2014, Seven screen ultra high definition video installation with 7.1 surround sound, 66 min 57 sec, Platform-L Contemporary Art Center, Seoul, 2017

Isaac Julien – Playtime, 2014, Seven screen ultra high definition video installation with 7.1 surround sound, 66 min 57 sec, Platform-L Contemporary Art Center, Seoul, 2017

Isaac Julien - Playtime, 2014, Seven screen ultra high definition video installation with 7.1 surround sound, 66 min 57 sec, Victoria Miro, London, 2014

Isaac Julien – Playtime, 2014, Seven screen ultra high definition video installation with 7.1 surround sound, 66 min 57 sec, Victoria Miro, London, 2014, photo: Stephen White

KAPITAL

KAPITAL, a two-screen installation is introduced on the first floor of the gallery. KAPITAL is envisioned to be an intellectual framework for PLAYTIME. It is a recorded video conversation happening at the Hayward Gallery. The people in the conversation are the artist himself Julien and the Marxist scholar David Harvey. The conversation is centered on capital with Julien asking why capital is quite a challenging factor to depict. Harvey tells him that capital exists as a result of its own effects. This part attracted the attention of some critics who thought it would have been better for the conversation to be played on one screen.

Isaac Julien - KAPITAL, two-screen high definition video installation, color, stereo, 31 min 16 sec, Victoria Miro, London, 2014

Isaac Julien – KAPITAL, two-screen high definition video installation, color, stereo, 31 min 16 sec, Victoria Miro, London, 2014, photo: Stephen White

Analysis

Playtime tries to highlight the one single reason as to why people travel from one continent to the other. They all have one goal which is to seek a better life. This much is bought out in the story if you take a good look at all the characters. Each one of them tries to make a living and have a better life in the best way they know how. It is all about capital.

Video: Isaac Julien speaks about Playtime

12min 41sec

Conclusion

Julien’s Playtime focuses on three cities. These cities play a unique role in capitalism. The first, Reykjavik, is the city where the 2008 global crisis first began. Moving on to London, it is a bustling city that was drastically changed by the move to deregulate the banks. Then there is Dubai, a city in the Middle East that boasts an iconic building and a flourishing financial market. Julien’s story represents much of what happens in real life with an added touch of fiction. The six characters in this work all bring to light how each one of them is differently affected by capitalism.

All images by Isaac Julien/isaacjulien.com unless otherwise noted.

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